With summer sessions just ahead at local colleges many so-called “Dream Act” students will begin the process of renewing their official status under a federal executive order. It's a complex process that's still a source of outrage for critics. NBC 7’s Gene Cubbison reports.
This summer is shaping up as a trying time for many students living in the U.S. illegally.
They're hoping to keep from being deported.
Applying for work permits and college scholarships.
The way many are able to do it goes by the acronym DACA: "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals".
It’s a set of immigration guidelines under a 2012 Executive Order that gives qualified students – starting with having been brought here by undocumented parents before age 16 as of two years ago -- a head start on making a difference in society.
Here's what they say to critics of that approach.
"The idea is that the contributions should really be looked at, and not so much about what all the legalities are,” says Viviana Gonzalez, a graphics design major at San Diego State University who’s lived in the U.S. since she was 11 months old.
Even DACA-ineligible youth continue to contribute in a lot of ways,” Gonzalez told NBC 7 in an interview. "As a college student, I'm given so much more privilege and access to things that I never would have gotten. I know a lot of my friends who aren't able to qualify, for very minor things -- it is very much an exclusive process."
Gonzalez was among a delegation of so-called "Dream Act" college students from throughout the county who gathered Friday morning at San Diego City College to brief journalists on plans for events to help guide students eligible under DACA through the process.
Also on hand: Nestor Venegas, a Palomar College student who’s bound for UC San Diego as projected pre-med major.
Venegas works in a Vista community clinic, and spent time one summer laboring alongside his father in North County agricultural fields.
As he recalls: "I went back to the classroom feeling very grateful for the fact that I got to sit in an A/C classroom listening to professors talk and knowing that I am going to have a better future."
Now Venegas hopes others looking for a pathway to success will benefit from his insights and assistance.
"We see this in all the applicants,” he noted. “They're all very ambitious, and their goals and where they want to be are very high."
Other criteria under the Executive Order guidelines are that students must have lived here for at least five years, and not committed any serious crimes.
Once an applicant's DACA status is granted, it has to be renewed every two years.
More than 7,000 Dream Act students qualified for state scholarships last year, accounting for just over 4 percent of the aid awarded by the CalGrant program.
But immigration hard-liners say DACA sends a message that encourages more illegality, and point to a recent surge in undocumented minors crossing the border alone.
"It's just astounding -- the mockery that has become of our immigration policy,” says Peter Nunez, a former U.S. Attorney in San Diego and founding director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
"The Republican Party, the Democratic Party -- for different reasons, representing different special interests, different constituencies -- are all in this together,” Nunez said in an interview Friday. “They have mucked this up beyond recognition."
Nunez lamented that he and like-minded critics are relegated to “playing defense” against what they see as an avalanche of ill-considered “immigration reform” proposals now in play.
"The slope has gotten much slipperier and steeper, and I think Americans have to ask themselves whether it's reversible at this point,” he said. “ I mean, what President in the future is going to have the moxie -- however you want to describe it -- and say, 'Enough is enough'?"